Practically Human

Rob’s plight was like most twenty-somethings set loose into the world after taking six years to get a four-year degree at Denver State: his student loans were greater than his parents’ first mortgage. Thankfully, Rob had straight teeth (that a dental student friend whitened for him), a tan (and not a spray tan that left residue on white clothes like pumpkin sweat—a real golden brown tan), and a thick, strong body. Between his good looks and relaxed weekend demeanor, Rob was pretty sure that he was on the fast track to becoming a millionaire. All he had to do was crank out a few exercise videos on late night public access TV and the deals would come rolling in. After his nightly shot of aloe vera to cleanse his digestive system, he’d climb into bed and dream of franchising his own weight-loss smoothies and expanding his brand to sweatsocks and headbands in an assortment of colors, each a clever take on one of his universally acclaimed smoothie names. Names like Boomin’ Berry Red and Awesome Orange.

The day Rob had officially graduated college was the same day his parents cut him off, and that meant he had to relinquish his loft in LoDo by the end of the week. Losing the view of Coors Field hurt most, but there’d always be Colfax and its endless supply of hard-living bums and prostitutes. Rob enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, and one of them was strolling down Colfax late at night to talk to those less fortunate than him. He could watch reality TV for this fix, but he had come to love an unkempt, goat-faced fellow named Huey who may or may not have been a war vet and who may or may not have had a serious mental condition. Huey always held a cardboard sign that read: UFO BROKE NEED MONEY FOR PARTS. Rob really respected that type of humor.

Huey had acquired a wheelchair, a pair of leather driving gloves, and a dog since the last time they’d talked.

“Where da wenches at?” said Huey.

“I brought you some beer, man.”

“Where da wenches at? Where da wenches at?”

Rob held out a forty ounce of Coors Light to Huey.

“Wha—I don’t want that. I can drink two cases of that, and I’m still not even drunk enough to throw shit at my dog. Where da wenches at?”

Rob looked down at the beer. He was on an alcohol and carb free diet, so he just set it next to Huey’s wheelchair. Maybe he’d get thirsty.

“How’s the UFO coming along?” Rob asked.

“They kicked me out at Whole Foods,” Huey shouted. “Said no dogs allowed. No dogs allowed! Those rich ladies always have they dogs with them. Where da wenches at?”

Huey must have covered some ground in that wheelchair. The closest Whole Foods was about a mile away in Cherry Creek. “What were you doing over in Cherry Creek?”

“Where da wenches at? Where da wenches at? Where da wenches at? Zombie! Zombie!” Huey pointed to a woman staggering down the street.

The woman dragged one leg behind her and lifted her shoulders to her ears in a manner that suggested she was a drunk, a cripple, a zombie, or a combination of all three. Huey’s dog barked in her direction. Rob was beginning to get freaked out. What if she was a real zombie? Rob didn’t want to wait around to find out.

“I gotta go, man.” The sight of the zombie woman had literally made Rob need to go number two.

He jogged over to the Whole Foods in Cherry Creek. It had the cleanest public restrooms in the area, which he needed badly. The stalls were empty. Rob took a seat. His poop slid right out, a good sign that he was fully hydrated. A fine wiping later, he glanced down and took a deep breath. It smelled like vanilla and apples. Rob smiled at his turd, impressed with his good health. After, Rob checked out the community bulletin board. Tucked between flyers for sea salt scrubs, seaweed wraps, and designer puppies was a handwritten advertisement for an apartment for rent. It was a converted garden apartment below a yoga studio in Cherry Creek. Rob got excited. This apartment would solve his living situation, and he’d hit up the yoga patrons for personal training sessions. Cherry Creek women would pay double what he could charge anywhere else in Denver.

# # #

The yoga studio was dark and smelled of incense that made Rob sneeze. He slowly approached the back corner of the room. He had let himself in. The shadows seemed to drift in and out of the light from a lamp covered with cheap crystals. The outline of a woman appeared. She was bent over, trimming her toenails with a pair of scissors. Without looking up, the woman addressed Rob.

“You want the apartment.”

“Yes.”

“You are desperate.”

“Yes.” One didn’t need to be psychic to know that someone responding to an ad for a garden apartment would be desperate.

“Your life is in a period of great change.”

The way she spoke in statements annoyed Rob. “Yes,” he said.

“I knew a man in a period of change would respond to my request. I can’t rent the apartment to just anyone. I need a handyman, someone to clean the restrooms and polish the floor of the studio,” she said, dropping a nail into the wastebasket. “Also, I need someone to fill in for me from time to time with classes. You will agree to this?”

“I can do some work around here, but I don’t know any yoga,” he said. “I can offer personal training fitness sessions in place of the yoga classes when you need me to cover.”

“I’m not talking about the yoga classes. I would never let anyone fill in for my yoga classes. I offer spiritual awakening classes three times a week where I teach people to become aware of their own psychic abilities. We are all psychic. We only need to remember.”

Rob interpreted spiritual awakening to mean cult. The most spiritual training Rob had received was a few trips to church when he visited Grandma back before she died. Grandma believed in religion and tradition. Both seemed like a massive waste of time to Rob.

“Can we turn on the lights?” he asked.

“I need them off, so I can better see your aura,” she said. “You have doubt.”

Rob detected that any influence he held over the woman now waned. Living below the yoga studio would have its advantages (read: rotating cast of flexuous lovers/clients), even if the front door was located in the alley next to the dumpster where the sushi restaurant dumped its scraps and would likely fill his living room with the odor of rotten fish heads. Rob was even desperate enough to rent out his body hourly to the yoga clients if that’s what it took to raise enough money to get his late night TV show running. The thought of husbands chasing him down the street in expensive Oxford loafers and no socks wasn’t as appealing. Why these women’s husbands never wore socks with their dress shoes was beyond him. Filling in for a psychic medium couldn’t be that hard and besides, it would give him a good opportunity to get some new clients.

“Doubt?” he said. “I’m sorry you’ve mistaken my hesitance for doubt. I just wasn’t sure I could do as good a job as you, but if you leave notes or the . . . lesson plan, I’m sure I would be able to handle the task. When can I move in?”

“You move in today.”

Rob thought he detected the slightest hint of a smile at the edge of her lips, but it was hard to tell in the dark. He didn’t second-guess the fact that the woman didn’t ask for a deposit, check his credit, ask for references, or even introduce herself. His good looks frequently afforded him such conveniences.

Besides, this situation was temporary, only a stepping-stone on his journey to becoming a millionaire. He could use the story of his poverty later in his tell-all novel: Dumb Bells Aren’t Dumb: One Man’s Journey to Success. He already knew the opening line:

“There was a time in my life when my student loan payments exceeded my monthly rent.”

# # #

There was a knock at the door just as Rob finished unpacking the last of his boxes. He opened it and his new landlord pushed past him carrying a tray of brownies. Rob couldn’t help but think that she could be the offspring of a swan and a squirrel: a graceful and crazed creature with fluffy gray hair.

“Do you have milk?” she asked, setting the tray of brownies on his kitchen table.

“Soy,” said Rob, reaching in the cabinet for a glass.

“My name is Mallory. I thought I’d stop by and see how your move was going.”

Rob poured two glasses of soymilk and set two plates on the table. Ordinarily, he would never eat something as bad as a brownie, but he didn’t want to seem rude.

“I’ve unpacked most everything—not that I had much,” he said. “All of my stuff is stored in my parents’ basement for when I find a more . . . stable situation.”

Mallory nodded and plated the brownies. Rob wished she had used a spatula or something to handle his food. She hadn’t washed her hands when she came in.

“About filling in for your classes, is there something I should do to prepare or study?”

“All you need to do is meditate for an hour every day. You’ll learn all you need to know to handle a class.”

“Meditate?”

“Just clear your mind. The brownies should help.”

“Brownies?” Rob asked, mid-bite.

“They’ll calm you. There’s a special ingredient in them, directly from Boulder.”

Rob set the brownie down.

She shoved the last of her brownie in her mouth. “I better get back to the studio. Can you clean the restrooms today?”

Rob nodded. He hated it when people spoke with their mouths full. Mallory showed herself out. If Rob didn’t know better, he would swear that he had the beginning of a body buzz. He looked down at the rest of his brownie and shrugged. Why not?

That was Rob’s last coherent thought before he decided to finish two more brownies and try meditating. The meditating didn’t work: he just fell asleep and had crazy dreams. First, he was in a giant bathtub filled with bubbles. The bubbles formed the shape of a camel and then flattened into the shape of a turtle. A voice filled Rob’s head, saying that everything is always shifting, and if he looked long enough, he’d see something different with each passing moment. Then, Rob’s body grew light and he flew across blue skies to a temple. He found a man sitting in the middle of a barren room with white walls and a white floor. The man was clean-shaven and wore jeans and a white polo shirt. Rob tried to ask what the man was doing, but he couldn’t use his voice. Then the man’s thoughts entered Rob’s mind:

Wait. All I can do is wait. Patience, while waiting for her.

Rob spent the rest of the week posting flyers for his personal training services around town, but he didn’t get any clients. He kept eating brownies and meditating, but it only led to more crazy dreams with the man in the temple. Rob spent the majority of his time working on his smoothie name list. Every once and a while, he felt like he wasn’t alone, and he had to turn to look over his shoulder to make sure someone wasn’t standing there. When Mallory called to ask if he would cover a class for her, he couldn’t be more thankful. He needed human interaction.

Only three people showed up: one woman and two men. The woman was in her mid-thirties, dressed head-to-toe in Lulu Lemon yoga gear. She even had Lulu Lemon gloves. What, were her fingers going to do yoga? One of the men was old, late seventies. He wore nut-hugging gym shorts and a faded T-shirt with a wolf screen-printed on the front. His cut-off sleeves displayed a pair of white-old-man arms. A red, white, and blue sweatband held the man’s wild hair back from his face, displaying bushy eyebrows and a thick beard. Rob secretly named him “Wolfpack.” The third client was a man in his early forties who wore a blue bandana on his wrist, a bow tie, and snakeskin shoes. Rob didn’t know what to make of him. The bandana was unnecessary, but rich people always wore stuff to make themselves look poor.

“Well,” he said, “My name is Rob. I’m filling in for Mallory today. What should we do?” She hadn’t left any notes or lesson plans so he was just guessing. “My vote is to play light as a feather stiff as a board.”

Wolfpack let out a sigh. “I got a bad back. I can’t chance it.”

“Let’s do wall sits then,” Rob suggested.

“Wall sits?” Yoga Gloves asked. “How does that help us learn to be psychic?”

“It’s the easiest things that hurt the most,” Rob said. “People think they gotta lift a ton of weight or do crazy stuff to get results, but that just ain’t the case. The wall sits will help us learn to focus our mind and control our breathing in a painful situation. That right there is half the psychic battle.”

Rob hoped they believed him because his next fallback was crunches alternating with planks.

Ten seconds into the move, Snake Shoes was slipping. “Oh god this hurts.”

“You know what hurts?” said Yoga Gloves. “Flutter kicks. Every time I do those I feel my hips pop out of their sockets.”

“Your hip flexors are tight,” Rob said. “Give ‘em a good stretch before you workout.”

“Do you know anything about reflex points in your hands and feet?” Snake Shoes asked.

“I know that points on your hands and your feet coordinate to different places on your body. If you feel a sore spot on your hands, and you have the same sore spot on your feet, then there is a good chance that the corresponding part of your body is unwell.”

He’d once taken a homeopathic class in college because he’d heard it was an easy A. Reflexology and acupuncture were two topics that had stuck with him for some reason. Rob welcomed the random questions. They kept everyone from thinking about the weird psychic stuff. Maybe he could just have them talk for the hour.

“So, what’s Mallory’s deal?” he asked.

“What do you mean, deal?” Wolfpack asked.

“She seems . . . a bit mysterious.”

“It’s a tragic story,” Yoga Gloves started. “Mallory has been trying to psychically connect with her deceased husband for several years now. She’s tried everything, but nothing works.”

“What’s so tragic about that?” Rob asked. He didn’t believe in an afterlife. Once someone died, that was it. Lights out. Gone forever. Just like Grandma.

“Well,” Yoga Gloves continued, “it was a tragic love story. Mallory and her husband first met when they were young, in grade school. They were good friends, but parted ways in high school. They reunited in their twenties, but found that both were married with families. Because of their situations, they felt it best to not continue a friendship. Mallory said she spent all those years thinking of him, missing him, loving him, and wondering why they never made it work. But for all the forces that kept them apart, there seemed to be another greater force driving them together. They met again, later in life, by chance when they were both hiking in Red Feathers. What are the odds that they would meet on a remote trail during off-season? They discovered they were both single and decided that very day to never be apart again.”

“I still don’t get why this story is so tragic,” Rob muttered.

“They spent every day together after they met up in Red Feathers,” Yoga Gloves said. “They were soul mates.”

“If they were soul mates, then wouldn’t they have just stayed together when they first met back in grade school?”

“Not necessarily,” Snake Shoes said. “Sometimes your soul mate is here to teach you patience. The only way to learn that is by not being together.”

“And sometimes, you have to learn to love yourself or others before you get to have that soulmate love,” Wolfpack interjected.

“How did he die?”

“Very unexpectedly, from a gluten allergy,” said Yoga Gloves.

“Really?” Rob didn’t think that gluten was a real allergy. It seemed like something people made up so they’d have an excuse to lose weight and not look like they had an eating disorder.

“It’s sad,” Wolfpack said, “and we’ve all tried to help her connect with him. With a love like that, I’d think it would be capable of cheating death.”

“There’s a picture of them in front of the Great Stupa in Red Feathers on her desk where you can actually see their love radiating around them,” Yoga Gloves said. “It’s really spectacular.”

“I gotta see this,” Rob said.

Snake Shoes ran off toward the office. A moment later, he returned with the picture in hand.

Rob glanced down. “Is this a joke?” he asked.

The group stared at him.

“I’ve seen this building and this guy in my dreams this entire week,” Rob said. The man had the same white polo shirt and grin on his face.

Yoga Gloves clapped, but the gloves muted the sound. “You have to tell Mallory.”

Rob looked at the clock. Class had gone over. “That’s it for today, folks.”

The group gathered their things while Rob shut off the lights. He double-checked that the studio was secure and then he locked up behind them.

Outside, a bright light filled the night sky.

“Is there a Broncos game tonight?” Rob asked.

“Light pollution,” Yoga Gloves said, frowning.

“Ain’t it pretty, though?” Wolfpack asked.

“It is what it is,” Rob sighed, just one more thing in his life that wouldn’t matter, wouldn’t make sense, and wouldn’t be remembered by tomorrow.

# # #

That night the dreams came in waves. Rob slept and woke, slept and woke, his mind filled with images of the Great Stupa, Mallory’s husband, and occasionally bananas and star fruit. He made sure to write down everything about the bananas and star fruit—this seemed like a new smoothie in the making. As for the other stuff, Rob left it alone in his mind. He didn’t have a clear message to give to Mallory, and telling her about these dreams may upset her.

But he could not stop thinking about them. Through his morning workout, Rob kept thinking about Mallory’s husband and the Great Stupa. He had to tell someone, so he put on his best tracksuit and jogged down Colfax in search of Huey. He was nowhere to be found. Rob made it all the way to the Bluebird Theater where he saw the zombie woman again.

The fear inside of him urged him to run across the street and make it back to the safety of Cherry Creek, and at the same time something else shifted inside, a feeling Rob couldn’t identify. He stared at the zombie woman. She seemed less zombie and more human this time. Maybe she knew where Huey was.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for a friend. His name is Huey. I’ve seen you around and I thought you may know where he is,” Rob said.

“He gone,” she answered.

“Do you know when he’ll be back? Where’d he go?”

“He ain’t comin’ back. You got a cigarette?”

“Sorry, I don’t smoke.” Rob felt some sort of pull inside of him and words came out of his mouth before he could take them back. “I saw you the other day. I thought you were a zombie.”

The woman drew back her head and laughed, so full and loud that the zipper on Rob’s tracksuit jangled in the sunlight.

“I’m sure you did,” she said. “I was in a bad way a few weeks ago. I got drunk—too drunk—and some kids jumped me outside of Sanchos. I didn’t have nothing to take, but they still took my shoes, three of my teeth. Lady at the free clinic said I was lucky they didn’t break my collarbone. And all I wanted to do was drink and pass out somewhere…”

Rob winced. Now he felt even worse for not helping her the other day.

“Anyway, you won’t find your friend here,” she said. “He left yesterday. Got in his ship and took right off. Lit up the whole damn sky. Said something about how his freedom contained him. Took that dog with him, too.”

Rob looked up. The sky was clear and blue, beautiful. The idea of Huey flying around up there made it even more beautiful—a thing Rob would not forget come tomorrow. Connecting the dots of all of this would be pointless. He decided to ask Mallory if she wanted to know about his dreams.  Maybe she already knew.

Front page image by Bert Kaufmann.

# # #